Dental fillings are used to fill decayed portions of teeth. When there is a cavity, the dentist will remove the cavity portion of the tooth and fill the space in using one of several different filling materials to restore the function, feel and health of the tooth. In addition to filling cavities, fillings can also be used for cracked/fractured and worn down teeth.
First, the dentist will use an anesthetic to numb the tooth or teeth that will be restored. Next, the decayed portion of the tooth/ teeth will be removed, so only healthy tooth structure is left. This will prevent decay from recurring underneath the filling that will be placed. After, the tooth is checked to make sure that all of the decay has been removed, filling material will be placed to fill in the space that was removed. There are several different types of filling materials that may be used depending on the location, size and preference of the dentist. If the filling is deep into the tooth, close to the nerve, the dentist may also use a liner to protect the root of the tooth before placing the filling material. After the filling material is placed, it is shaped and moulded to fit with the bite of the adjacent teeth. Next, a UV light is used to harden the filling, then the bite is checked with articulating paper to make sure it fits with the occlusion. After a few hours, the numbness will subside.
Several different materials are used for fillings. The material used depends largely on the location of the filling, how large the filling will need to be, cost/ insurance coverage, the preference of the dentist and patient and the available materials to the dentist. Some examples of filling materials are gold, porcelain, amalgam (silver) and composite resin (white.) The two most common filling materials are amalgam and composite resin. Typically, the benefit of amalgam material is its durability- great for areas with strong chewing force and teeth that need larger fillings. Amalgams also have a longer life span than composite fillings. A disadvantage of amalgam fillings is the appearance, as they don’t match with surrounding tooth structure. Another drawback is the potential fracture of surrounding tooth structure due to expanding/ contracting from hot and cold. The advantage of composite fillings is the aesthetic appearance and more minimal cavity preparation.
To maintain healthy fillings, always follow a good oral hygiene regimen that includes brushing at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day and using a fluoridated toothpaste. It is also essential to maintain regular professional dental cleanings as at this time the teeth can be assessed and periodically x-rayed to verify the fillings are in good shape. X-rays show the in-between tooth surfaces that are not assessable clinically.